Using critical race theory as a framework, this article examines the access and availability of Advanced Placement (AP)1 courses and how they impact educational outcomes for Latina/o2 and African American students. To begin thinking critically about enrollment patterns of AP courses we ask the following questions: How do school structures, practices, and discourses help maintain racial and ethnic discrimination in access to AP courses? How do Latina/o and African American students and parents respond to the educational structures, practices, and discourses that help maintain racial and ethnic discrimination in access to AP courses? Finally, how can school reforms help end racial and ethnic discrimination in access to AP courses?
In order to answer these questions, we examined a school district in California that serves a large population of Latina/o and African American students. Three different patterns emerged around access and availability of AP courses: Latina/o students are disproportionately underrepresented in AP enrollment district-wide; schools that serve urban, low-income Latina/o and African American communities have low student enrollment in AP courses; and even when Latina/o and African American students attend high schools with high numbers of students enrolled in AP courses, they are not equally represented in AP enrollment. We call this structure and process "Schools Within Schools."